Funeral Homily

(The following text is the notes for the homily I delivered at the funeral Mass for my father. May all the blessed dead know the solace of the beatific vision and help us as we make our own pilgrim way to a world that is yet to come).

The Church’s first scripture proclamation was an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth centuries before the revelation of Christ, and in his spiritual vision, foresaw Christ’s revelation.

In this scripture, the prophet Isaiah envisions a holy mountain, upon which God will act to destroy the power of death and deliver his people from power of their sins. Is this holy mountain an actual place or merely a dream? When will God act to accomplish such wonders?

The holy mountain the prophet foresees is the place of Christ’s cross, for it is in this place, and at that moment, that God acted in an extraordinary way to impart an undeserved forgiveness and to transform death forever. Remember, the revelation of Christ is not merely that of a kind teacher of timeless spiritual truths, but of the one, true God, who surprises us all, because he does something God should not do- he accepts for himself a human nature and lives a real, human life.

God in Christ does this, not for himself, but for us, so that he might create for us a possibility beyond death and so that we might know that his power is manifested in his willingness to love us and forgive us, even when that love and forgiveness is not deserved or appreciated.

Christians believe that God in Christ enters into death on the cross so that when we die, as all mortal creatures do, what we encounter in that experience is not merely an end, but a new and mysterious beginning. Death has become in Christ a route of access to God because God in Christ has permitted himself to die.

In that moment of his experience of death (on the cross), God in Christ does something remarkable, and again, surprising, he demonstrates his willingness to forgive us and this act of generosity, for his forgiveness is undeserved, gives us hope that what we encounter after death is not a cold rebuke, but a merciful Savior, the one who will, as the Gospel testifies, “save us from our sins”- from what we have done and what we have failed to do.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw all this in shadows and suggestions. God would reveal centuries later in Christ the Lord what the prophet Isaiah foresaw, what we know and believe in Christ.

The second scripture is another excerpt from the scriptures- this time from the New Testament, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies to the power of the Sacrament of Baptism to change us, to transform us. St. Paul illuminates God’s purpose for Baptism.

Baptism is not, as many have made it, merely a quaint cultural custom. Instead it is an act of God, a revelation and through this act of God, this revelation, a Christian is changed, not by human choice or merely an act of our will, but by God’s choice and God’s will. God chooses us and through Baptism he changes us, making us his members of his family, giving us the identity that the Lord Jesus himself has- the identity of a child of God. In other words, through our baptism we belong to God in a way that a child belongs to his parent or a person belongs to her family. What Christ has in his own relationship with his Heavenly Father, the baptized are also given.

The significance of this is profound. Throughout our lives we grasp at (or are grasped by) identities that we might be tempted to treat as being of ultimate importance- family, nationality, political affiliation, race, ethnicity, class etc. And while these identities have worldly importance, they are not all that important to God. And God signals the relative importance of these worldly identities by making these things temporary, passing away, we take none of these identities from this world to the next. These things are inevitably left behind.

Worldly identities, or things of worldly importance, like beauty, youth, athletic prowess, academic degrees, bank accounts, real estate, (all the things the world believes matter most) pass away and do so by their very nature. We can enjoy these things for a time, but all these things have an expiration date and they will not pass with us from this life to the next.

What does last is that relationship given to us in Baptism, our identity as a child of God and a member of God’s own family. When we meet Christ face to face, this is what he sees, this is what we bring to him.

This is the meaning of St. Paul’s testimony to us today.

Finally, in his Gospel, Christ testifies that he will give his divine life to us as food and drink. He does not come to us merely to teach us ideas about God, but he comes to be for us a living source of holy communion with God. What we receive in Christ is not merely an insight or an opinion, but God himself- and how will God in Christ give himself to us?

Christ will give himself to us through the mysterious reality that we know as the Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. The Eucharist is mysteriously God in Christ, not merely a symbol of Christ, but God in Christ himself. God’s life is not far from us and his presence is not off somewhere at a distance. God reveals himself, not merely in ideas or opinions, or as a vague cosmic force, but he places himself in our midst in the Eucharist and then through that Eucharist, asks us to receive him, in the manner one receives food and drink. This is the Eucharist- God in Christ gives us a share in his divine life and presence as food and as drink. Thus, in the Eucharist, we do not simply remember Christ as a historical reality from the past, but we encounter Christ in the present. The Eucharist is Christ’s revelation in this world, in our lives, in the here and in the now.

Receiving God as food and drink we have an opportunity to become ever more like him. Receiving God in the Eucharist we have an opportunity to become more that what believe that we are- we can become ever more like Christ.

This is the great mystery, and the great meaning of the testimony we heard from the Gospel of John today.

Over eighty years ago, **** ****** was baptized. (Whether the motive for this Baptism was custom or something else is not as important as the gift that he received). This gift, this Baptism, indicated that God in Christ had chosen **** as his own and given him a mission, a meaning and purpose for his life.

Over time, the mystery of **** Baptism would unfold, leading him through the other Sacraments, of Eucharist and Confirmation, and what was given to him through these Sacraments was the startling revelation that God reveals himself in Jesus Christ to be Love.

The revelation that in Christ God is Love is given to us in a way of life called the Church. In the Church, we do our best to become for others an experience of the love that God in Christ has given to us. The Church is meant to be a way of life, a way of love.

Love is not for the Christian merely a sentiment or a feeling, but a way of life. Love is what we do for others by doing what God in Christ asks of us- willing for others what is good, testifying to what is true, appreciating what is beautiful, and giving to others what merciful.

The way of love, the Christian way of life, takes the form of a unique mission or vocation and **** accepted this in the Sacrament of Marriage and through his relationship with his wife, *****, and in communion with his children and grandchildren, family and friends, he sought to give to others the gift he had received in his own Baptism- the way of love.

We would know, through him, through sacrifices great and small, through a low-key death to self (that would set the needs of others as more important than his own needs), how God in Christ loves all of us.

Love in any of our lives is never perfect in its expression or motive, but **** sought, as best he could, to impart to others what God imparts to us- what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful- the gift he has received from the Lord he gave to others.

St. John of the Cross, one of the Church’s greatest mystics, remarked that in the evening of our lives, we are examined by love. This means, as years pass, and worldly concerns and pre-occupations become ever less important, it is our love, for God and for others, that remains, and it is this love that we take with us as we make our way from this life to the next.

Concluding Remarks

(These remarks were offered at the conclusion of the Funeral Mass)

On behalf of my mother and my brothers, I would like to express our deep appreciation for all the gestures of consolation and kindness that we have received. These past two weeks have been the occasion for both grief and grace and the support that we have experienced from family and friends has been gracious indeed.

I cannot do a better job testifying to the life and interests of my father than my brother did in the text of the obituary that he wrote. My father was a thoughtful and kind man, who was faithful to his wife of nearly sixty years and whose quiet influence is manifest in the lives of his children and grandchildren. We will miss him, but his faith, faith that believed that life is not ended but changed, enlivens us with a hope greater than mere memory, a hope that believes that he is still with us in ways that are unseen, and that he awaits us in a heavenly life that is yet to come.

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 29th, 2017)

 

The first of the Church’s scriptures for today is an excerpt from the book of the

Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah. Zephaniah spoke the Lord’s word of truth in

the years preceding a horrific catastrophe- the destruction of the Kingdom

established by David by the armies of Babylon. This catastrophe is foreseen by

Zephaniah, but he discerns more than destruction- God will act, the prophet

testifies, God will act to effect the restoration of his people. But this restoration

will not produce an Israel like before, worldly, pre-occupied with wealth, pleasure,

power and honors, but an Israel that will manifest to the world their relationship

with God through humility and lowliness. The mighty kingdom of David will pass

away, but the remnant, what appears to the world to be nothing and nobodies,

will be precisely the means through which God reveals himself to the world.

 

In other words, Zephaniah understood the catastrophe that the Israelites would

face, the loss of everything the world considered to be important, to be not just a

loss, but an opportunity. Stripped of worldliness, Israel might become what God

had intended his people to be- true representatives to the world of the one, living

and true God. Bereft of the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honor,

the Israelites might better appreciate and understand what it truly mean to be

God’s chosen people.

 

The lesson in all this for us is properly understood by correlating or connecting

what the prophet Zephaniah says to the Israelites and to the Church. The

prophet’s words are for us- for the Church (and by Church I do not mean just the

hierarchy, but all the baptized). How are we enamored by worldliness? How

much of our time and efforts is spent in pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and

honors? And what does our attainment of worldly things contribute to our

mission as representatives of God in the world? The prophet insists that the

chosen people of God will make him known in humility and lowliness- what would

the prophet make of us? What does God make of us?

 

The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament letter of St. Paul to the

Corinthians. In this text, the Apostle Paul speaks of a reality that appears to the

worldly to be foolish and weak, a nothing and a nobody, contemptible and

despised. What is this reality of held in such contempt by the worldly?

 

It is Christ and those who belong to him- Christ and his Church.

 

However, what appears to so worthy of the world’s contempt, is in actual fact,

God and his chosen people. In other words, the worldly have got everything

wrong- what the worldly think is power is actually their own weakness, and what

the world thinks is glory, is actually their own foolish pride. What the worldly

think matters most, doesn’t actually matter all that much at all.

 

In Christ, God reveals himself to the world in a way that confounds and confuses

all the expectations of who God is and what he is supposed to do. In Christ, God

makes himself small, in fact, he makes himself seem like a nothing or a nobody,

going so far to allow himself to be maligned, tortured and executed, all so that he

can reveal his power over death, and in doing so, show the worldly just how

empty their own claims to power really and truly are.

 

As it is with Christ, so it is with his Church. Real power, divine power in the

Church is not revealed by those who manage her wealth, preside over her

bureaucracies, or who receive the most in terms of public attention. Real power,

divine power, in the Church is foremost revealed in her Sacraments and in her

Saints- for in her Sacraments and Saints, the Church is most like Christ. The world,

indeed many in the Church, think little of either the Sacraments or the Saints,

preferring the Church’s wealth and power as their preoccupation, but true power

resides in the Sacraments and the Saints. The worldly cannot see and appreciate

this, but to those who are faithful to Christ- they see things rightly and they

appreciate and they understand.

 

Finally, the Church presents to us a select passage from the Gospel of Matthew-

and it is one of the most cherished and renowned passages in the Gospel!

 

The Gospel for today are the Lord Jesus’ own words concerning beatitude or

blessedness. In other words, how does one discern God’s favor?

 

Whom does God single out for his particular attention? Who are the ones that

God chooses to be the means through which he reveals his will and his purposes?

 

The answer to this is revealed to us by God in Christ in today’s Gospel.

 

The worldly insist that divine favor is manifested in worldly attainments- in

wealth, in pleasure, in power and in honors. The worldly prize success in terms of

worldly attainments- who is the richest, who is the most powerful, who is it that is

recognized and rewarded, who is it that lives in comfort and security? The

worldly consider such success as blessedness, as beatitude. These things

represent God’s favor and having these things is the measure, the evidence of

blessedness or beatitude.

 

But God in Christ reveals something else entirely. God in Christ identifies himself

with those who often have little of what the worldly deem to be valuable and

important. In his beatitudes, in his revelation of who is truly blessed by God and

why, Christ overturns our expectations of who has divine favor and what it really

means to be in an authentic and true relationship with God.

Sermon on the Mount
Copenhagen Church Alter Painting

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 19th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Zechariah. The prophet Zechariah proclaimed God’s truth during a time of restoration and renewal for the Israelites. A time of great trial and tribulation was coming to an end, as the Israelites were freed to return to their ancestral lands after a long and painful exile in Babylon. The Israelites had languished in Babylon as captives after the catastrophic events of 587 BC, when the Kingdom of David came to a violent end, conquered by the armies of Babylon.

The Israelites had literally lost everything in 587 BC, but during the ministry of the Prophet Zechariah, things changed in favor of the Israelites. The Israelites were going home. Thus the prophet Zechariah proclaims that God has given the Israelites a second chance and new opportunities.

 

The specific passage from the Prophet Zechariah you heard today is very mysterious. He foresees that one day the Israelites will look upon a man who is pierced, and in their grief they will recognize that God has visited his people in an extraordinary way, and from this pierced man will come forth an opportunity for communion with God.

Christians have understood the Zechariah’s words as referring to Christ. Christ is the pieced one of Zechariah’s vision, a vision that becomes reality in his cross, which is contrary to all appearances, God’s means of offering us communion with his divine life.

This might seem hard to understand, but here in your sanctuary is a monumental representation of Zechariah’s vision- the image of the crucified Savior, the pierced and wounded Christ. This image of Christ crucified is not merely a decoration, but a point of reference that helps you to understand what is happening in this place, in the Holy Communion of the Mass. It is always in relationship, in communion with the Pierced Christ that God reveals himself to us.

For it is the cross that God’s identification, his relationship with us is most profound and deep- God experiences for himself the pain of suffering and the loneliness of death. God is with us, and he is with us, not just in some things, or in pleasant things, but in all things, all the events and circumstances of life. This is the covenant of his Body and his Blood (the Pierced Christ)- it is his promise that he keeps and it is the promise that he renews each time the Mass is offered and the Blessed Sacrament is adored and received.

The Church’s second scripture is an excerpt from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. In his testimony, St. Paul makes it very clear that the categories of identity that the world considers important- political, ethnic, familial, economic, cultural are not as important as the identity that is given to us through our Baptism, the identity that comes from being in relationship with Christ.

All the worldly categories that we prize and deem so important will all one day fall away. When we meet the Lord Jesus face to face, all the worldly markers of identity that we cherish and value will merit barely a fraction of a second of the Lord’s attention. He will not see us in accord with the identities that we construct out of our worldly categories, but will know us and measure us and judge us only in reference to the identity that he has given us- that being a son and daughter of God.

This is not pious boilerplate. It is a revelation. In the end, when each of us comes to meet Christ face to face, he will not ask us what political party we belonged to, or what university we attended, or what degrees we attained. He will not ask us how much wealth we created or the status of the corporations we owned or worked for. Christ will not ask us our nationality or ethnicity or our family name. What he will be interested in is what we did with the gifts he bestowed on us, the opportunities he placed before us to love and to serve- and most importantly he will demand to know whether or not the Baptism he gave us was appreciated and taken seriously.

We might not take our Baptism seriously, reducing it to merely a quaint custom, convince ourselves nothing much is at stake in our Baptism, but God in Christ takes it very seriously, because it is the only identity we take with us from this life to the next. Any identity that we have in this world passes away in the world to come- except that identity that comes from our Baptism.

The Christian knows this, and for this reason, the Christian does not cling to worldly identities that are passing away, but holds fast to the identity Christ gives to us in Baptism- the identity of being a beloved member of God’s household, a member of his family, a brother or sister of the Lord Jesus- a son or daughter of God.

This is the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s testimony, his insistence that for those who are baptized in Christ, all are one, and the worldly distinctions we make absolute and cling to, are all just passing away.

Much of the hard work of being a disciple is letting go of worldly identities and coming to fully accept our Baptismal identity, our relationship with Christ.

Christ begs a question of his disciples in his Gospel, and in begging a question of his first disciples- he begs the same question of us- who do you say that I am?

Note that Christ has only cursory interest in what others have to say about him. He is not interested in a disinterested answer, the kind of answer a journalist or historian or biographer would contrive.

Instead he insists that each of his disciples answer the question personally- and further, he indicates that there are many wrong answers and only one answer that is really and truly right. Our idea about him, or our opinions or our feelings do not make him who he is. He is always boldly and serenely himself. Christ is asking us to profess our faith and to tell the truth. Who do we think that he is- and in terms of what we think, are we getting him right or just making things up, or worse, remaining passive and indifferent.

Do we know who the Lord Jesus really and truly is?

Now mind you, the question is not what we know ABOUT the Lord Jesus, but whether or not we know him personally- as one knows a friend. To be in relationship with Jesus Christ is to be a friend of God. It is only in this relationship of friendship that the fullness, the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus is revealed.

If we truly know Christ as a friend, then we can introduce him to others, and in our willingness to introduce others to Christ, the Church can flourish and grow.

But if we do not know Christ as one knows a friend, then the Church will falter and fail, for the purpose of the Church is to serve as a means of introducing people to Jesus Christ.

You see, the Church is not merely an institution we fund with our surplus wealth or a private religious club of our own making. The Church is the means that God in Christ has chosen to make himself known. The Church is first and foremost, the way Christ chooses to introduce himself to people. It is through the Church that a relationship with Jesus Christ happens and it is relationship to Christ and the Church that one becomes a Christian.

Therefore, being a Christian, is not about being a privileged recipient of faith based services or matriculating through Catholic-themed institutions. You can do these things and still not be a Christian- or worse, be a bad Christian.

Being a Christian, in faith and in truth, is about knowing Jesus Christ as one knows a friend and inviting others to know him too!

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The Baptism of the Lord (January 10th, 2016)

Last Sunday, the Church in the United States celebrated the great solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord Jesus.

We learned that an Epiphany is an extraordinary revelation, and the revelation of the Epiphany continued the revelation of Christmas- that is the one, true and eternal God was born into this world as we were all born into the world. God, in Jesus Christ, accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life. This revelation, which we Christians call the Incarnation, is the central and most important truth of the Church’s faith- it is what we believe about God and what we believe about the Lord Jesus.

God is not just an idea or a feeling or a vague cosmic force. God reveals himself in Jesus Christ to be a living, divine person who offers us a relationship with him. Jesus Christ is not just a prophet, philosopher or guru. Jesus Christ is God become man.

We also learned last week some of the details of the story of Christ’s epiphany, particularly about the Magi who were led to the Child Jesus by a heavenly portent that is described in the Gospel for last Sunday as a star. The Magi were masters of mystical arts and esoteric teachings. The popular imagination presents the Magi as being 3 kings, but they really were not kings, and the Gospel doesn’t tell us how many came to see the Lord Jesus.

We also learned last week that there were two kings in the story of Christ’s Epiphany- one is God become king- Christ himself, and the other is worldly king by the name of Herod, who was, at least, in a worldly sense, one of the greatest kings in the history of the Israelites.

Herod was born around the year 74 BC and died in the early years of the Christ Child’s life. Though successful in worldly matters, such as politics, economics, and possessed of wealth and power that brought him any pleasure he wanted and the honor of powerful and influential people, Herod was a brutal and murderous fiend. He plotted to kill the Christ Child, and having failed in his plot, murdered the innocent children of Bethlehem.

Such was the world into which God allowed himself to be born! It was also one of the reasons God came into our world as our Christ- to deal with men and women like Herod and create a means by which they would always be challenged, subverted and ultimately defeated.

I bring up Herod today because though he died was Christ was just a child, the shadow of his life is cast throughout the Gospels. And this is important to remember today, on this the day the Church commemorates the Baptism of the Lord.

Please let me explain.

Like Christ’s Holy Birth and his Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord Jesus is a mysterious event. The Baptism that the Lord Jesus receives is NOT the Baptism of the Church. Instead, Christ is participating in a purification ritual that would have been familiar to Israelites of his time, but is likely unfamiliar to us. The Baptism of John, which Christ permits himself to receive, gestures towards the ritual washing which faithful Israelites would undergo so as to enter into the temple precincts so they could participate in the worship of God.

Why the Lord Jesus receives the Baptism of John is as mysterious as why John is baptizing people at all.

The Gospel of Luke identifies John as a temple priest who has evidently gone rogue. Rather than fulfilling his role as an Israelite priest he is off in the wilderness telling people not to go to the temple and warning them that something has gone so wrong with that temple, that God himself was coming to set things right.

Remember, the temple of Jerusalem was the center of Israelite culture, indeed the Israelites considered the temple to be the center of the world. The temple was not just a civic monument, but also the house of God on earth. The fate of the Israelites, indeed the whole world, was bound to the temple and the worship that was offered there.

 

John’s Baptism, is meant to prepare the people for the day when God arrives to set whatever had gone wrong with the temple. John was offering a ritual washing so that when God came and cleaned up his house (the temple) the people would be ready to worship him.

All of John’s concerns about the temple and the mysterious Baptism he offers are also where the shadow of old king Herod is cast.

Herod had rebuilt the temple of Jerusalem on such a magnificent scale that it was considered to be one of the wonders of the ancient world. He had done this, not so much to honor God, but to insure his legacy, and as a kind of propaganda, that he and his dynasty were the long awaited successors to the mightiest kings of the Israelites, David and Solomon.

John the priest would have none of this. He knew Herod was a fraud and that his temple was corrupted by the influence of his dynasty, and also knew that God was coming to kick Herod’s family out and clean up the temple and priesthood that Herod had corrupted with this wealth and power.

And then John sees the Lord Jesus and understands that he (the Lord Jesus) is the one who is the means by which God will deal with the temple and priesthood that Herod had corrupted.

This is the great revelation of Christ’s Baptism- he is God come to set things right, in particular, to expose a king like Herod as being a fraud, and to bring about the kind of temple and priesthood that God wants for his people.

Jesus Christ is God, and therefore the true king. In Christ the Lord, God becomes the king. But more than this, Christ the Lord, who is God, has as his mission to set right the temple and the priesthood so that people can worship God as he wants to be worshipped.

This is what Christ’s Baptism is signaling to us, gesturing toward. Removed centuries from all this history, it might be hard for us to see, but it is what today’s commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord is about. It is another great revelation that is manifesting to us, as we saw at Christmas and at Epiphany, that Christ the Lord is God, but that God has come into the world with a mission and as he accomplishes his mission, the people will receive from him, the true king, a new temple and a new kind of worship.

And Christians… This is precisely what we are participating in today- the temple of Christ and the worship that God wants. This is what the worship of the Church called the Mass is- temple worship, Christ’s temple worship. Here in the Mass, you enter into Christ’s sanctuary and Christ your king presents himself as your priest and makes of his own body and blood the sacrifice by which he shares his divine life with you.

This is what the Mass is and also why the Mass is the worship God wants, because in the Mass, God in Christ acts to give you his divine life, and he does so in the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist.

What John the Baptist longed for and did not live long enough himself to receive, is now given to you- you have in Jesus Christ your king, you have access to his temple, and you can offer him the worship through which you do not simply remember who the Lord Jesus is, but through which you receive his very life and adore his very presence.

The Mass becomes boring and even oppressive when we forget what it is- it is not just an expression of culture or faith based entertainment that we create out of our own ideas or feelings or skills. The Mass is Christ’s temple and the worship he wants- it is the means by which he shares his life with us and we share our own lives with him.

The revelation of Christmas and Epiphany is that God has become man- he has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life. Both events compel us to think back to an event that changed the world centuries ago. The revelation of the Baptism of the Lord compels us to think back to that event centuries ago when God revealed himself in such an extraordinary way, but then insists that we not only remember what God in Christ did in the past, but what it is doing right now, right here in his temple- in this very Mass!

God in Christ has come into this world, yes, and in his Mass he reveals to us that he is still here!

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